Three Mill Homes and an Earl: A Moveable Inn and a Hotel Barring Dancing and Card Playing

One of the oldest existing structures in Rabun County, a home and later an inn dating from1850, was not originally built in this county. How it was constructed and how it ended up in Dillard is the story of the Whitehall Inn, later known as Rabun Manor.

The story begins in 1817 when John White and his wife immigrated to this country from Ireland. Possessing experience in textile manufacturing, he assumed management in 1827 of one of Georgia’s first cotton mills in the village of Whitehall, now part of Athens. Over the ensuing years, the business prospered, and additional buildings were constructed, including homes for mill workers.

Whitehall Built from Three Mill Homes

White built a family house of approximately 6,000-square-feet in 1850, using heart-of-pine timbers from three mill homes. He called his house Whitehall. After he died in 1881, his son, John Richards White, assumed control of the cotton mill and became a prominent banker and industrialist in Athens, where he built a new cotton mill and an electric generating plant, both powered by the Oconee River.

John Richards moved Whitehall to the rear of his property in 1890 to make way for an imposing new brick home, incorporating Greek and Victorian architectural styles common during the latter years of the nineteenth century. Now standing behind the new home, Whitehall became a school.

In 1905, White decided that his family needed a mountain home to escape the summer heat in Athens. He traveled to Dillard, where he stayed with his uncle, Zach Dillard—the proprietor of an inn that was the precursor of present-day Dillard House—who gave him a parcel of land for a summer home. The building site in Dillard was on a hill that offered a panoramic view of the valley and surrounding mountains.

Home Moved to Dillard by Railroad and Oxen

Rather than build a summer home, White elected to move Whitehall to Dillard. The building was disassembled in 1906, and the timbers were numbered to facilitate precise reassembly. Shipped by rail from Athens to Cornelia, the timbers were transferred to the Tallulah Falls Railroad for transportation north through Rabun County. Since Mountain City was the TF’s final stop at that time, the load was hauled by teams of oxen for the last few miles to Dillard. The timbers were reassembled on the building site, and a large front porch was added during the construction process. The home continued to be called Whitehall.

The family used Whitehall as a summer residence until 1986, when it was sold to new owners, who converted the house into the Whitehall Inn. The Inn later became Rabun Manor under new ownership, and as of this writing, Rabun Manor is closed. Standing on a hill high above Highway 441 in downtown Dillard, the more than 170-year-old home and inn has been a landmark of the town ever since it was moved from Athens shortly after the turn of the twentieth century.

The Earl House

Unlike the Whitehall Inn, every other hotel and boardinghouse in Rabun County was home grown and spawned by the Tallulah Falls Railroad. Extended north from Tallulah Falls through Rabun County during the first decade of the 1900s, the TF brought tourists, eager to view the Blue Ridge Mountains, to Clayton, Mountain City, Dillard and finally Franklin, North Carolina. Hotels and boardinghouses sprang up in the communities served by the railroad, and by around 1915, Clayton was home to more than a dozen hostelries. One of the town’s earliest was the Earl House.

Located on a knoll across from what is now Andy’s Market at the intersection of Rickman Street and Duggan Hill Road, the Earl House originally was a small farmhouse built in 1875. Looming behind the dwelling, which was sold to Frank Earl in 1880, was 3,000-foot Screamer Mountain.  Following the death of his first wife, Earl remarried in 1900, and from this union began the development of that farmhouse into the Earl House.

As the popularity of the Earl House grew, the Earls gradually expanded their modest cottage into a three-story hotel with 35 guest rooms and a dining room with seating for more than 100 guests. Other additions included a barn with guest rooms above, a laundry house and a garage for 15 cars. A creek behind the main house was dammed, creating a small lake for swimming, fishing and boating.

No Contagious Diseases, Dancing or Card Playing

A 1921 advertisement in the Clayton Tribune read: “Ten-minute walk to the station. Spring and well water, hot and cold baths with sewerage (or indoor plumbing.) Electric lights, wholesome and abundant fare, etc. Cows on meadow and drink spring water. Persons suffering with tuberculosis or any contagious trouble cannot be entertained.” In addition to being health conscious, the Earl House also was a morally upright establishment. “No dancing nor card playing,” cautioned the ad.

1926 article in the Clayton Tribune reported that the Earl House was installing a new water system, “utilizing one of the many large springs that can be found on the side of Screamer Mountain and which affords a natural gravitation sufficient to ensure an adequate supply of pure spring water for the Earl House. Some thirty-five hundred feet of one-and-a-half-inch pipe is being laid for this purpose.”

Burning Hotel Ignited Massive Forest Fire

In April 1940, the Earl House burned to the ground. The Clayton Tribune reported: “The fire was supposed to have originated in the wash (laundry) house and there being a strong west wind blowing, the flames spread rapidly. During the fire, a 400-gallon water tank blew out through the top of the house, and eyewitnesses say that it went 200 feet into the air and fell across the creek. The wind carried the burning embers more than a half mile from the building and set the fields and forests on fire and more than three thousand acres of forest were burned…endangering all the houses along the Warwoman Road for three miles and it took heroic work on the part of volunteers and the WPA (Works Progress Administration) workers to save the buildings…This was the largest fire ever seen in this section of the country…It looked for a time as if all of East Clayton might be wiped out.”

Since the hotel was not covered by insurance, the Earl family absorbed the entire loss. The Earl House, once one of Clayton’s largest and most popular hotels, was never rebuilt.

This article by Society member Richard Cinquina was originally published in the Laurel of Northeast Georgia in December 2023.

About the Rabun County Historical Society 

The Rabun County Historical Society is dedicated to keeping alive Rabun County’s 200-year history in the Appalachian Mountains of Georgia. We collect, preserve and display important historic artifacts, photographs and records in our 2,300-square-foot museum and archives located at 81 North Church Street in downtown Clayton, Georgia. The Society is a not-for-profit organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, making membership dues and donations fully tax deductible. For more information, please contact us.